Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio play button
0:00
0:00

Martyr!

A novel

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio play button
0:00
0:00
Kaveh Akbar’s Martyr! is a paean to how we spend our lives seeking meaning—in faith, art, ourselves, others—in which a newly sober, orphaned son of Iranian immigrants, guided by the voices of artists, poets, and kings, embarks on a search that leads him to a terminally ill painter living out her final days in the Brooklyn Museum.

Cyrus Shams is a young man grappling with an inheritance of violence and loss: his mother’s plane was shot down over the skies of Tehran in a senseless accident; and his father’s life in America was circumscribed by his work killing chickens at a factory farm in the Midwest. Cyrus is a drunk, an addict, and a poet, whose obsession with martyrs leads him to examine the mysteries of his past—toward an uncle who rode through Iranian battlefields dressed as the Angel of death to inspire and comfort the dying, and toward his mother, through a painting discovered in a Brooklyn art gallery that suggests she may not have been who or what she seemed.  

Electrifying, funny, wholly original, and profound, Martyr! heralds the arrival of a blazing and essential new voice in contemporary fiction.

“I disappeared into Martyr!—utterly consumed by it—and then it returned me to the world with wider eyes, a swollen heart, and sharpened nerve endings. This is a book that understands the strangeness and grief and ecstasy of being alive; that understands the strange envelope of a body, the proximate sublime on the bare chest of a beloved; the baffled wonderment of sobriety, the grief that spans every scale of the human project—and, more than anything, the impossible salvation of love persisting not despite but through these materials. Kaveh Akbar writes with the staggering entirety of his mind and heart, and Martyr! will stay in my soul for good—a fever dream, a reckoning, a heartbreak, a shattering and mending, a delight—its double-helix of dreams and conversation now part of my own DNA for good.” —Leslie Jamison

“A brilliant and blisteringly alive novel about not just how we go on, but also why. Kaveh Akbar's first novel is so stunning, so wrenching, and so beautifully written that reading it for the first time, I kept forgetting to breathe. I will carry this story, and the people in it, with me for the rest of my life.” —John Green
 
“Kaveh Akbar has given birth to a hilarious marvel of a novel. Rip-roaringly funny. Wise and wise-assed. It’s about addiction and love, self-pity and rage and moving instants of profound redemption. Akbar stands among our greatest poets, but calling this novel lyrical isn’t code for lack of plot. Akbar is a black-belt storyteller, and Martyr! is a page-turner I couldn’t put down. Buy this book!” —Mary Karr

“I can’t remember the last time a book made me feel like this. Martyr! is simply extraordinary. The language moves across the page like a symphony, and the story vibrates with an energy that made the book impossible to put down. Kaveh Akbar has written a novel that will stay with me forever. What a story. What a voice. What a gift.” —Clint Smith

“Kaveh Akbar is a radiant soul, a poet so agile and largehearted it comes as no surprise that his first leap into fiction is elegant, dizzying, playful. Martyr!  is the best novel you'll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, homesickness for people longed for but forever unknown, the way art as eruption of life gazes back into death, and the ecstasy that sometimes arrives—like grace—when we find ourselves teetering on the knife-edge of despair.” —Lauren Groff
 
“An absolute jewel of a novel. A diamond. I haven’t loved a book this much in years. Kaveh’s writing is so thoroughly powerful and gorgeous you can feel it from where dreams come, and in all over your brain, and straight from the bottom of your heart. This book does everything. It is so entirely funny and sad and true and beautiful. Kaveh Akbar is one of my favorite writers. Ever.” —Tommy Orange
© Beowulf Sheehan
KAVEH AKBAR’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections: Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City. View titles by Kaveh Akbar

About

Kaveh Akbar’s Martyr! is a paean to how we spend our lives seeking meaning—in faith, art, ourselves, others—in which a newly sober, orphaned son of Iranian immigrants, guided by the voices of artists, poets, and kings, embarks on a search that leads him to a terminally ill painter living out her final days in the Brooklyn Museum.

Cyrus Shams is a young man grappling with an inheritance of violence and loss: his mother’s plane was shot down over the skies of Tehran in a senseless accident; and his father’s life in America was circumscribed by his work killing chickens at a factory farm in the Midwest. Cyrus is a drunk, an addict, and a poet, whose obsession with martyrs leads him to examine the mysteries of his past—toward an uncle who rode through Iranian battlefields dressed as the Angel of death to inspire and comfort the dying, and toward his mother, through a painting discovered in a Brooklyn art gallery that suggests she may not have been who or what she seemed.  

Electrifying, funny, wholly original, and profound, Martyr! heralds the arrival of a blazing and essential new voice in contemporary fiction.

“I disappeared into Martyr!—utterly consumed by it—and then it returned me to the world with wider eyes, a swollen heart, and sharpened nerve endings. This is a book that understands the strangeness and grief and ecstasy of being alive; that understands the strange envelope of a body, the proximate sublime on the bare chest of a beloved; the baffled wonderment of sobriety, the grief that spans every scale of the human project—and, more than anything, the impossible salvation of love persisting not despite but through these materials. Kaveh Akbar writes with the staggering entirety of his mind and heart, and Martyr! will stay in my soul for good—a fever dream, a reckoning, a heartbreak, a shattering and mending, a delight—its double-helix of dreams and conversation now part of my own DNA for good.” —Leslie Jamison

“A brilliant and blisteringly alive novel about not just how we go on, but also why. Kaveh Akbar's first novel is so stunning, so wrenching, and so beautifully written that reading it for the first time, I kept forgetting to breathe. I will carry this story, and the people in it, with me for the rest of my life.” —John Green
 
“Kaveh Akbar has given birth to a hilarious marvel of a novel. Rip-roaringly funny. Wise and wise-assed. It’s about addiction and love, self-pity and rage and moving instants of profound redemption. Akbar stands among our greatest poets, but calling this novel lyrical isn’t code for lack of plot. Akbar is a black-belt storyteller, and Martyr! is a page-turner I couldn’t put down. Buy this book!” —Mary Karr

“I can’t remember the last time a book made me feel like this. Martyr! is simply extraordinary. The language moves across the page like a symphony, and the story vibrates with an energy that made the book impossible to put down. Kaveh Akbar has written a novel that will stay with me forever. What a story. What a voice. What a gift.” —Clint Smith

“Kaveh Akbar is a radiant soul, a poet so agile and largehearted it comes as no surprise that his first leap into fiction is elegant, dizzying, playful. Martyr!  is the best novel you'll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, homesickness for people longed for but forever unknown, the way art as eruption of life gazes back into death, and the ecstasy that sometimes arrives—like grace—when we find ourselves teetering on the knife-edge of despair.” —Lauren Groff
 
“An absolute jewel of a novel. A diamond. I haven’t loved a book this much in years. Kaveh’s writing is so thoroughly powerful and gorgeous you can feel it from where dreams come, and in all over your brain, and straight from the bottom of your heart. This book does everything. It is so entirely funny and sad and true and beautiful. Kaveh Akbar is one of my favorite writers. Ever.” —Tommy Orange

Author

© Beowulf Sheehan
KAVEH AKBAR’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections: Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City. View titles by Kaveh Akbar

Books for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, we are sharing books by women who have shaped history and have fought for their communities. Our list includes books about women who fought for racial justice, abortion rights, disability justice, equality in the workplace, and more, with insight on their remarkable lives that inspired others to

Read more